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From: The Socialist issue 1127, 31 March 2021: Unite and fight - For the right to protest

Search site for keywords: Electricians - Socialist Party - Workers - Socialist - Construction - National Shop Stewards Network - Besna

Deskilling protests by sparks electricians continue

Photo: Socialist Party Scotland

Photo: Socialist Party Scotland   (Click to enlarge)

North East

Sparks were outside the north east England headquarters of NG Bailey in Newcastle, which, alongside Balfour Beatty, is attempting to lead the way among the giant companies deskilling electricians.

The words from Boris Johnson, who had flagged up "greed and capitalism" was ringing in their ears. The anger towards Johnson and the Tories was palpable, and the words used against him unrepeatable!

If bosses get their way, 70% of the work currently undertaken by skilled electricians will be carried out by ESOs (electrical service operators). Instead of a four-to-five year apprenticeship, there would only be a two to three-week training programme. So, instead of ten qualified electricians being employed, there will be three electricians and seven ESOs, which would "start a race to the bottom."

As one of the protesters said: "There is no way this is going to happen. We're not going to let them take 70% of our work - it's not happening!"

The point was also made that at this stage the protests were small, but workers were also clear they are going to build a mighty rank-and-file movement. As one said: "We will win! We won ten years ago against Besna - we'll win again!"

The protest ended by one of the sparks setting off a rocket, saying: "There's gonna be fireworks!"

Elaine Brunskill, Northern Socialist Party


For the fifth successive week, the sparks were out on the streets of London on 24 March.

Yet again they took the fight against deskilling to the doors of NG Bailey, one of the electrical companies behind the Electrical Service Operator (ESO) grade that would be used by the bosses to undercut skilled wages.

Unite EC member for construction, Frank Morris, told the construction electricians that the protests are spreading around the country and building momentum.

The ESO grade looks like being taken off the table at Hinkley Point nuclear power station because of the sparks' pressure, but the fight continues until the likes of Bailey and Balfour back off.

A retired electrician told passers-by that deskilling would mean that new offices, workplaces and hospitals would be a safety risk. Rob Williams of the National Shop Stewards Network paid tribute to the Shrewsbury pickets and their families who finally got their convictions overturned after 48 years of fighting for justice.

He said: "We need a trade union inquiry to expose the establishment framing of these workers and the cover-up."

Hackney Socialist Party members


The mood was determined among pickets outside the Balfour Beatty premises, on the Wirral. Workers driving past on the way to their own workplaces could not miss the array of banners and Unite flags, and hooted their support for the strikers, who chanted "No to ESO" in support of their cause.

Roger Bannister, Merseyside Socialist Party

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The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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Article dated 31 March 2021

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